- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner yesterday said he learned from the press about last month’s evacuation of federal buildings resulting from an errant flight into Washington’s restricted airspace, even though his state was one of the targets of the September 11 terrorists.

“I learned about it through the press,” said Mr. Warner, a Democrat. “Now, I was traveling that day, and there have may have been contact with our office.”

Mr. Warner’s comments about the May 11 incident followed a wide-ranging regional meeting on tourism, air quality and the Chesapeake Bay with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

A pilot’s unintentional breach of restricted D.C. airspace prompted federal officials to evacuate the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court and other buildings without informing D.C. officials.

Mr. Warner yesterday included Virginia officials among last month’s uninformed.

“Sometimes what we have seen with federal assets in the region is letting the local folks know, or they let one jurisdiction know and not the others,” he said.

Mr. Warner added that there have been “dramatic improvements in communications” between his state and the federal government.

But he also expressed concern about timely notification from the federal Homeland Security Department, which is considering plans to shoot down wayward airplanes over the District. Mr. Warner noted that local agencies and workers would be responsible for handling the aftermath of the shooting down of a plane.

“This is a culture change, particularly when you’re dealing with an entity like [the Defense Department, which] is used to trying to keep information close to the vest,” the governor said. “Those first responders are not going to be federal assets responding. They’re going to be the local District fire, Montgomery County police or Fairfax sheriff, and we need to know.”

Mr. Ehrlich agreed, adding that he learned about last month’s events from Maryland Homeland Security Director Dennis R. Schrader.

“The issue here is of just improving our situations where a federal event occurs and communicating whatever that event is to respective states,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, is still waiting for a written protocol for emergencies from the federal Homeland Security Department.

In other matters, the regional leaders signed an agreement to create the Interstate Air Quality Council.

The panel, which includes environmental and transportation representatives from each jurisdiction, was formed to help the region comply with the federal Clean Air Act.

The region is close to violating the Clean Air Act, even though particulate matter in the air has decreased 66 percent and nitrous-oxide emissions have been lowered 44 percent over the last 15 years, the leaders said.

“We still have a ways to go,” Mr. Warner said.

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